Remember the lawsuit filed over a war memorial in Lake Elsinore, California that shows a solder kneeling before a cross? The judge has ruled that the design is a violation of the Establishment Clause. The ruling was based on the Lemon test and the judge concluded that the monument violates the first two prongs of that test.
When the government uses religious symbols or requires religious instruction, the Supreme Court has placed the burden on the government to articulate a predominantly secular purpose for using the symbols under Lemon.
In the instant case, there is no evidence as to why the City of Lake Elsinore initially chose to include a Latin cross on their veterans’ memorial. Although the cross serves as a tombstone, a religious symbol is not necessary to mark a grave, and like Eckels and Jewish War Veterans, the use of a religious symbol where one is not necessary evidences a religious purpose. However, even assuming Lake Elsinore originally included the cross for a secular purpose, the Court must examine whether the relevant government decision makers abandoned their neutrality in adopting the cross design, and acted with the “intent of promoting a particular point of view in religious matters.”
Here, there is strong evidence that at the October 23, 2012 Lake Elsinore City Council meeting, multiple City Council members expressed a predominantly religious interest in keeping the cross on the memorial. Responding to members of the community who expressed legal concerns about including the cross, Mayor Pro Tem Hickman said “I feel sorry for us that we as Christians cannot show the cross because of the First Amendment. Okay. It really is a shame that our society, to me, is leaning that way.” Later in resisting a motion to continue a vote on the memorial until other designs were considered, Mr. Hickman added: “I’m not going to sit here and wait for people to denigrate my beliefs, okay. . . . Let them just present their designs. We don’t have to change it.” Council Member Melendez added that “it is a sad reflection on our society when as a Christian nation, one of the principles upon which we were founded is something that we are forced to hide.” And in response to the motion to continue the vote, she later stated: “You know what . . . I think at some point you have to take a stand. I’m sorry. I just think you do. And I’m going to make a substitute motion that we approve this project as is and where it is.”At the November 13, 2012 council meeting, Council Member Magee also expressed an intent to keep the cross because of its religious symbolism. He stated immediately prior to casting his vote to approve the memorial that what “got to [him] the most” was the public testimony of Deborah Rodriguez, who spoke about “her cross and her time served [in the military] and her son.” Ms. Rodriguez had told the Council that “the cross” made her proud to serve her country, “which was founded on Christianity,” and that “God is the cross for me. It could be other things to other people.”…
Although the board members did not originally state why they approved the monument, two of the three board members later defended the monument for religious reasons, making statements such as: “That’s what we’re trying to live by, that right there.” “The good Lord died for me. I can stand for him. And I’m going to.” “I’m a Christian and I believe in this. I think it’s a benefit to the community.” “I won’t say that we won’t take it down, but it will be after the fight.” The court in Green held that the reasonable observer would have been aware of these comments and would have concluded that the county board’s enactment of the monument reflected an endorsement of religion.
Here, as in Green, the public comments show that for a majority of the five-person Lake Elsinore City Council, the purpose for including the cross on the memorial was to symbolize their religion and the Country’s status as a Christian nation. Such comments reflect an abandonment of government neutrality in adopting the cross design, and an “intent of promoting a particular point of view in religious matters.”
And once again we find local elected officials getting their actions struck down because they want to be viewed by the voters as standing up for God. Their vanity and self-interest drives them to be honest about their motivations and that always works in our favor. You can read the full ruling here.